by Bryan Lim on

In The Sound of Music, a free-spirited young woman named Maria was studying to be a nun when her love for music and nature, along with an inability to adhere to the rules, led the nuns to question her suitability to life within the abbey.

Just as Maria was an enigma to the nuns, millennials are an enigma to today’s companies. Today, though, there’s no option to sing a song about it and send the millennials off to a retired naval Captain’s mansion to be a governess.


If only a song could solve the woes of managing a millennial…

In a recent video making its rounds on Facebook, British-American author and speaker Simon Sinek, distilled the root of the problem to failed parenting, technology, and by extension, the need for instant gratification, and the corporate environment. He felt that because of these factors, millennials aren’t to blame and that companies have a responsibility to adapt to them.

No stranger to the millennial conundrum, The Pride has talked about the stress of being young today, and made a case for why we probably shouldn’t hold them to the same job expectations that we did for generations past.

As the new year brings new opportunities, The Pride goes on the other side of the fence to suss out what recruitment specialists and employers feel about millennials, and their strategies in dealing with Generation Y.

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Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard of Robert Half Singapore. Credit: Robert Half Singapore

They’re tech-savvy, and that’s not bad

Sinek: Everything you want, you can have instantaneously. Everything you want, instant gratification. Except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. There ain’t no out for that.

Tom (not his real name) is the owner of a content production company, who had a difficult time with a staff member in his early 20s recently. Declining to reveal his name to protect the identity of the staff, he said the millennial quit after just two weeks as an apprentice due to mismatched expectations in duties and pay.

While acknowledging the benefits of advancements in technology, Tom, 38, felt that information is now disseminated so quickly that it becomes a source of distraction impairing the millennials’ hunger to learn and develop new skills. “It is a double-edged sword,” he said.

On the contrary, recruitment specialist Mr Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard sees technology as where millennials can make the biggest impact. Since millennials have grown up in a world where resources such as “mobile apps and social media are commonplace”, they can be “catalysts for change”, he thought.

The 34-year-old managing director of Robert Half Singapore, a recruitment agency for the accounting, banking, finance and technology sectors, said: “Millennials are working smarter by making greater use of technology. While operating outside traditional office hours, millennials are making use of the latest advancement in technology to streamline and deliver their work more promptly.”

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Branda Lai of Hughes-Castell Singapore Credit: Branda Lai

They’re not entitled; they just know what they want

Sinek: (Millennials) were told that they were special all the time. They were told that they could have anything they want in life, just because they want it.

While the pay dispute made the employee appear calculative, Tom admitted that it was not a bad thing for employees to fight for what they feel is their worth. Was the dispute a manifestation of millennials feeling entitled or special? “No,” said Tom after some thought. “I would say they’re less resilient. However, as the future of our workforce, we should find a compromise for them.”

However, the attitude of millennials could appear uncompromising, said Branda Lai, 30, a legal recruitment consultant with Hughes-Castell Singapore. She observed that millennial applicants “don’t settle for less” if they know their worth. They are also inclined to look beyond the “remuneration package”, at factors that will affect them in the long run. She doesn’t think this makes them entitled.

Lai explained: “They will consider their career progression, reporting line, working culture, work-life balance, job scope and team size. And in the age where employers are aware of the importance of these considerations, most companies are prepared to accommodate, as long as the demands are reasonable.”

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Eugene Wee, Editor of The New Paper Credit: KC Wong

“We want to make an impact’, whatever that means.”

Sinek: It’s as if they’re standing at the foot of the mountain, and they have this abstract concept called “impact” that they want to have in the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain.

In a Facebook post, Tom wrote that the millennial employee expressed in his exit interview that “what (he’s) doing isn’t important enough”. It was a sentiment that confused him as the staff was, at that time, preparing a deck for a pitch to attract investors.

While the millennial’s leadership experience accumulated during national service had led Tom to expect a higher standard, he concluded that it may have been better for the young employee to start from the company’s apprenticeship programme to help establish expectations and job responsibilities.

That kind of holistic experience is what 42-year-old Eugene Wee, Editor of The New Paper, offers to his millennial staff via the internship programme.

He said: “We take in a lot of interns, and we keep them engaged by giving them meaningful work to do and treat them like full-time staff. So they will chase the same stories as our full-timers do, be subject to the same hours, and have the same standards demanded of them.”

This inevitably requires more resources to train and manage potential new hires, but he sees it as an investment rather than a cost and suggested that managers should adjust their perception accordingly. It also means that if he needs to hire someone, there will be a graduating former intern familiar with the company culture and willing to join the company.

So to the millennials…

The industry veterans have spoken and yes, they are in your corner. Yes, they are aware of the changing times your generation heralds. Yes, they’re adapting to you. Yes, they see your value and want to give it a shot with you.


The moment when you reach the “peak” and breathe in that rare air. Sing, Maria, sing.

Tom even suggests that the detractions ascribed to millennials may not be exclusive to them. Perhaps they are just caught in the forefront of this movement – where it has become commonplace for employees to want to make an impact or state what they want.

And it’s not just millennials who are distracted by technology and their devices at important meetings, or even in their personal lives.

As the working world speeds into the future, companies and millennials should give each other time to work out what’s best for all. As Sinek says, it takes patience and time to get to the peak. But once you do find your tribe, like Maria in the Captain’s mansion, you’ll find your voice. So to the future Marias, be patient and wait for your time to sing.